Review: Kissinger's year: 1973


By Alistair Horne
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20

As he contemplated the arrival of 1973, Henry Kissinger could be forgiven for thinking of himself as the Master of the Universe. Although still only President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, not yet Secretary of State, he was the unquestioned architect and executor of American foreign policy.

Kissinger had demonstrated, during Nixon’s first term, a flair for bold initiatives in pursuit of a clearly defined strategic vision, culminating in Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972. As 1973 dawned, Nixon had just been re-elected by a landslide and Kissinger looked forward to cementing détente with the Soviet Union, continuing improved relations with China, overseeing US withdrawal from Vietnam and forging links with a new generation of European leaders.

But Kissinger’s expected annus mirabilis turned horribilis in very short order, caused largely by an event which had nothing to do with foreign affairs but undermined Nixon’s presidency as the year wore on: Watergate.

With Nixon’s authority ebbing away, both enemies and allies took advantage. The North Vietnamese reneged on the Paris peace deal painstakingly negotiated by Kissinger, and the French scuttled his “Year of Europe”.

Edward Heath was no help, sulking in Number 10 because Kissinger had cut him out of his dealings with China, on which the touchy Heath considered himself an expert. And, if that wasn’t enough, Kissinger had to contend with openly antisemitic leaders in both the White House and the Kremlin.

The final disaster was the eruption of the Yom Kippur War in October, unforeseen by everybody, from Mossad to the CIA. In the event, it proved to be a triumph for Kissinger, newly promoted to Secretary of State.

His deft and courageous diplomacy during those desperate days for Israel is expertly charted by Alistair Horne. The veteran historian brilliantly captures the drama of the war and Kissinger’s key role in ensuring that Israel received the military supplies it needed to survive. Despite his own ambivalence towards the country, he made it clear that it was inconceivable that the first Jewish Secretary of State would allow the disappearance of the Jewish state, and harangued the foot-dragging Defence Secretary, James Schlesinger, threatening to end high-ranking careers if his department didn’t allow supplies to start flowing pronto.

But he was just as tough with the doughty Golda Meir (“Miss Israel”, as he called her in private) when she threatened to sabotage the ceasefire he had constructed. Barely had the last shot been fired than Kissinger was hard at work devising a framework for Middle East peace that excluded the Soviet Union and, Horne contends, ensured a sort of stability, for the US at least, that lasted until September 11, 2001.

This is a sympathetic portrait of an extraordinary man at the height of his powers by a writer in no doubt that, whatever his many critics may argue, Henry Kissinger is a great statesman.

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